Thursday, March 31, 2011

Syria's Assad Strikes an Ugly Pose against Demonstrators

Syrian president Bachar al Assad spoke yesterday, and he did not say what his PR people had led the world to believe he would.
Assad, who followed in his father’s footsteps 11 years ago in becoming head of the Baath Party and president of Syria, did not lift the draconian 48-year-old state of emergency or try to accommodate the demands of the demonstrators who have been on Syrian streets for more than a week, mostly in Daraa in the south near Lebanon.
Instead, Assad said that they had been duped by outsiders seeking to overthrow the government, adding that the unnamed outsiders are trying to destabilize Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority and the Alawite minority, of which the Assad family is part and through which it has based its 40 years of iron-fisted rule.
To add insult to injury, Assad said he had been too busy with economic and international issues to bother with eliminating emergency rule.
If this sounds like recent events in Bahrain, don’t be fooled. It is much more like Iraq. Assad’s one-party rule, based on Arab nationalism of the worst kind, has spread terrorism into Lebanon by supporting Hezbollah, and weakened Palestine by supporting Hamas in Gaza. It is not for nothing that Israel has several times entered southern Lebanon to clear out Hezbollah enclaves, thereby delivering to Syria the message that Syrian terrorism will not be tolerated on Israel’s northern border. We also remember that during the early stages of the Iraq war, the US warned Syria to stop sending terrorists into Iraq or face being bombed. Syria complied.
Assad’s security forces are pervasive and no one expected that democracy demonstrators had any chance of beginning a confrontation with him. But, they have, and now, Assad has answered, saying, in effect, that they will be put down, by force if need be, in the name of Syrian stability.
“What he said today, it will not stop the movement,” said Haitham al-Maleh, a leading activist. “There is a tsunami going across the Arab world, and it will cover Syria, too.”
Malath Aumran, an exiled Syrian cyber-activist, said, “He is totally ignoring our demands in the streets, like any other arrogant dictator.”
Assad said the government had ordered security forces not to open fire on the Daraa demonstrators, but the confrontation escalated to gunfire killing 60 marchers because of “chaos in the streets” incited by “the plotters.”
Syria is not Egypt, or Tunisia, or even Libya. It is a dangerous regime run by thugs who are determined to overthrow Israel and oust moderate Arab states in the Middle East. What to do as policy? More in another blog.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Time Has Come, the Walrus Said, to Speak of Many Libya

Let’s get serious about Libya.
First, the US military and Defense Secretary Gates have said since the beginning of the debate that a no-fly zone would not work alone.
Since then, every other military expert who talks says the same thing - no troops on the ground, no victory for Free Libya.
And, now we are talking about supplying arms, which should have been part of UN Resolution 1973 in the first place. As any military expert will tell you, wars cannot be won without troops on the ground to secure territory that has been taken. The UN was kidding itself to think so and draft a resolution without a ground troop component.
As we all knew, the Free Libya fighters are a rag-tag non-trained non-disciplined group who want to get rid of Qadhaffi but have no idea how to fight a war. So, every time Qadhaffi forces advance they run away and cede what they had gained. This could make for a very long and indecisive war in which Qadhaffi will ultimately win through his propaganda machine, sorely lacking in the rebels.
So, what to do?
1. Arm the rebels and send military to train them - if not Americans (Obama has made it very clear he will not send ground troops) then French or Qataris trained by Americans.
2. Re-open the debate on Resolution 1973 at the Security Council and add words to make it clear that arming and training rebels is permitted. Russia and China may balk, but they will most probably abstain again.
3. Recognize Free Libya, as France already has, as the legitimate government in Libya and send diplomatic groups to help them. Remember, every diplomatic post has military attachés.
4. Tell the Arab governments in the Middle East that their charade of supporting Free Libya while demanding no real intervention to make them successful is over. Put up, or shut up and get out of the way.
The entire world detests Qadhaffi. Surely, the combined entire world can get rid of him.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obama Counting the Angels on a Pinhead

Last night we heard President Obama explain his rationale for helping the Libyan rebels and his outline of what seems to be his policy of differentiating between situations engaging American vital interests, where unilateral intervention would be acceptable, and other situations where only coalition intervention would be acceptable because America’s vital interests are not engaged.
That sounds good, but it does not hold together when we examine the details.
And, just to confuse matters, the President offered a third option - that there are times when the rest of the world may look the other way, using the example of an impending massacre by Qadhaffi of the freedom fighters in Benghazi, and the humanitarian disaster that would have resulted from refugees flooding into Tunisia and Egypt. "To brush aside America's responsibility as a leader and -- more profoundly -- our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as president, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."
But, Mr. Obama chose to wait, and almost lost the Benghazi high ground.  Either :
1. Obama saw no need to respond to “fellow human beings” in Benghazi unilaterally because there was no “atrocity” in the making calling for unilateral action (as Mr. Reagan might have asked, if not in Benghazi, where?), or
2. somehow, Obama was able to juggle the moral time bomb even as the humanitarian crisis cried out for action because he needed a coalition before acting since America’s vital interests were not at stake.
It seems very much the parsing of a lawyer. Following Obama's logic :
1. Either America should have acted unilaterally because her moral values required that she save human beings being threatened with atrocities and murder by a madman, or
2. America should not have acted unilaterally because there was no perceived threat of atrocity touching her vital interests and so America needed a coalition to manage her international responsibilities.
We are no closer to an “Obama Middle East intervention policy.”
In fact, with each new humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, Obama will have to begin again :
1. Is it a humanitarian crisis and, if so, is it a humanitarian crisis that touches America’s vital interests? If so, unilateral action is required.
2. If it is not a humanitarian crisis, or at least not a humanitarian crisis touching America’s vital interests, then Obama will need to convince the America military, Congress and other nations to join a "non-vital" coalition so that America may act.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Israel, Palestine, Obama and Lincoln

While the world is watching the unfolding events in Syria and Libya, another set of events has engaged Israel and Palestine.
Israel has been bombed, for the first time since 2004, from Gaza , and rockets have been launched from Gaza into Israel.
Israel was quick to respond with bombing raids into Gaza.
There is nothing startling about these events, if it were not for the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is going to speak before the American Congress in May, and Palestine is continuing to pursue its goal of being recognized unilaterally by the UN General Assembly in September.
When the Israeli PM speaks in May, he will undoubtedly try to stake out a position that is both tolerable for Israel and acceptable to President Obama. This won’t be easy. Obama is determined to blame Israel for the Israel-Palestine problem because Israel will not give up the territory taken in the 1967 war before serious negotiations begin with Palestine. This is a logical position - to keep one’s bargaining chips as negotiating tools. But, Obama wants Israel to abandon its 1967 territory now, explaining that from his point of view this is the real stumbling block to an Israel-Palestine peace.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The real stumbling block is that Palestinian President Abbas does not want to negotiate and never will unless forced to the table by Obama or his successor.
As for Palestine being recognized by the UN General Assembly, that just might be the best thing that could happen to Israel. It would keep its 1967 buffer zone, and it could then encourage Palestinians to develop their country without having to be the “bad guy” in the never-ending Palestinian bickering about peace negotiations.
As for President Obama, as usual, he has got it all wrong once again. Israel is not the problem. Palestine and its terrorist Hamas partners in Gaza are the problem.  It reminds me of one of President Lincoln’s favorite jokes :
"How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."


Saturday, March 26, 2011

And the Beat Goes On...Libya, Yemen, Syria

It's Saturday and :
Syria is in real trouble with its street protesters.
Yemen protesters have won, it seems, because their president is talking about handing over power.
Free Libya has re-taken Ajdabiya from Qadhaffi's forces, who fled during the assault.
France and Britain are keeping the heat on Qadhaffi in Tripoli, and on his troops in the field, and there is no sign of a let-up from them, if that's what Qadhaffi had hoped for to save himself.
America is still trying to lead, but her president remains unsure in what direction, and sounds a little like Germany's Merkel, defending the coalition now that it is succeeding.

Jay Leno is an American talk show host who has a very popular nightly TV program. He does a stand-up bit at the beginning of each program. Last night he said: You know the world's in a mess when the Germans don't want to go to war and the French do.
How true and it is perhaps the sign that the "old" Europe is finally finding its post-WWII role and discovering that it can do quite well, thank you, without Germany in the lead position.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Merkel's Libyan Stance Angers Germans

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under increasing pressure at home - from the media as well as her political allies and foes.
The leftist paper, Die Link, said it is ashamed to find Germany on the side of China and Russia, and being congratulated by Hugo Chavez and Qadhaffi for having abstained from voting for UN Resolution 1973. It noted also that Merkel didn’t even choose to voice moral support for the Libyan insurgents trying to break free of Qadhaffi.
This reaction to the Chancellor’s refusal to support the Resolution is shared by most Germans, who see her abandoning Germany’s traditional allies for the sake of her internal German political agenda. She is in very tight regional election battles in the south of Germany and is accused of trying to use a “pacifist” stance on Libya to salvage her coalition. One does not abstain in the face of a dictator, said one of her opponents. Merkel, trying to save her coalition by every means available, has also abandoned her position that nuclear power is needed for at least the next ten years, and announced some immediate shutdowns of older nuclear units.
The SPD, the leftist party of Merkel’s predecessor as Chancellor, and the German Green Party have independently voted to support Resolution 1973. Their position is based on the premise that, even if Germany’s post-WWII pacifist position would make it difficult for Germany to join the military coalition, it would have been easy to vote for the Resolution and find other ways to help. Some German commentators are also pointing out that there are German troops in Afghanistan, a seemingly non-pacifist gesture.
As she often does when she has made a tactical political error, Merkel is now saying at today’s European summit on Libya that Qadhaffi’s day is over and that Europe’s patience is wearing thin. If the military intervention is quickly successful in Libya, these words will haunt her coalition.
Germany’s European partners, who, with Britain and France in the lead and with the full support of Merkel, are trying to form a pan-European military force, are beginning to wonder if Germany could become a permanent roadblock to ever committing to any military objective.
As one German newspaper was quoted as saying today, Merkel’s foreign policy is a farce. Fortunately, Merkel’s policies are not the policies of the broader Germany. And her coalition is living on borrowed time.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Coalition War Fails Again in Libya

Coalition wars in the post-Vietnam era seem to be doomed to failure. They are not wars at all, but rather aggressive agglomerations of individual partner states.
Aggressive - because the coalition seeks to right the violation of a perceived common moral axiom.
In the case of Iraq, it was the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, later determined to be non-existent. Their non-existence led to the collapse of the original small coalition and its re-building in another guise. In the case of Libya, the aggression is directed to the saving of innocent civilians from their government’s violent behavior toward them. The Libya coalition has proof of the violence but it is less sure about who is demanding rescue and who is happy with the status quo. That makes it difficult to keep coalition members focused and active.
Agglomerations - because the coalition members are not bound by any common history, but by a perceived external injustice they wish to eliminate. The agglomeration acts somewhat like an oil slick - it forms a rather tight mass and then disperses as choppy waters in the form of uninformed world opinion and frontline reality overtake it.
The very fact that the United Nations had to force the Libya coalition into existence speaks to its fragility. It would have been preferable for France to act alone, because she alone felt intensely the injustice and demanded that it be removed.
But, with all the international tribunals aimed at preventing “war crimes,” most countries, even those with the best of motives, are afraid to act. Perhaps we have built a monster with our worries about unjust wars. Perhaps, we ought to seriously re-consider the American objections to these tribunals. But, that is in the future and will not help Free Libya.
In any event, we should not expect much more than has already been accomplished by the Libya coalition. The rockets have all been fired, the sea blockade is forming and the people of Libya will be left to fend for themselves in deciding how to win their liberty from despotism.
The international community has bound itself so tightly in ill-conceived rules of engagement that all the fire power and technology in the world will not, indeed is forbidden to, help a few poor souls in the Libyan desert asking only for freedom.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wanted Immediately : GOP Presidential Candidate

The Republican Party is looking for a good candidate to face President Barak Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

Characteristics desired:

1. Long-term GOP adherent with no political baggage, such as having served under Obama.

2. Heterosexual, married, 2 to 3 children, no history of extra-marital affairs, even under extreme workplace pressure.

3. Age between 45 and 65, but older would be considered if he looks and sounds like Ronald Reagan.

4. Religious preferences flexible, but should lean heavily toward Judeo-Christian values.

5. Political experience a plus, but not required.

6. Management experience essential, but at higher than community level.

7. No prior dabbling in universal public health care will be tolerated.

8. Understanding of the US Constitution vital, but lawyers would need to promise that they will not make personal interpretations according to their own political world-view, rather leaving that to the Supreme Court, as the Constitution clearly insists upon.

9. Acceptance of the Constitution’s balance of power, so that working with the Congress and Courts will be collegial and not confrontational.

10. Decision-making capability crucial, and anyone with aversion to actually making decisions will not be considered.

11. Love of sports is fine, but choosing March Madness brackets while Libya burns is not acceptable.

12. Ability to pronounce and spell name of National Republican Committee Chairman highly desirable.

13. Must agree to find a suitable political role for Sarah Palin, and control her output until the election.

14. Should prefer tea to coffee.

15. US birth certificate to be available at all times for inspection.

All interested parties should please submit their resume.
Only finalists will be notified, and will be expected to have warm clothes for door-to-door campaigning in Iowa in January 2012.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Help the Benghazi Rebels Help Themselves

As the weekend fades from view and we are shown again and again the charred tanks and abandoned weapons of Qadhaffi’s military and the rejoicing relief of the Free Libya fighters of Benghazi, we may wonder what is next.
The current stand-off cannot continue. One side or the other will finally seize an opportunity and prevail.
What the UN and its members hoped for in adopting Resolution 1973 was that the Free Libya movement would be protected from Qadhaffi’s mercenaries by international intervention. This has been accomplished.
What the world hoped for with Resolution 1973 was that Qadhaffi would finally be brought to justice for his 42 years of organized terror and violence against his own people. This has not been accomplished yet.
The UN, the international coalition, the Arab League - need now to ask, what is the next step?
To end the active part of the coalition’s effort in a stalemate, in which Free Libya sits in Benghazi and Qadhaffi hides somewhere on the other side of Libya near Tripoli, is not sustainable. One or the other will win.
It seems elementary that Free Libya needs weapons and equipment so that it can march toward Tripoli, making its case with the Libyan people that it will better represent them and their aspirations than Qadhaffi did or ever will. That case cannot be made from Benghazi. It cannot be made while Free Libya waits. It cannot be made while Qadhaffi, weakened but undefeated, still controls the bulk of Libya and its administration.
If international military are not to be permitted on the ground in Libya, then the UN and the Arab League need to decide who will be permitted. Will it be just humanitarian aid workers, or will it be representatives of the international community who can help organize Free Libya without imposing its ideas of governmental models. These representatives could advance the cause of Free Libya by explaining the use of the weapons delivered, by showing the best ways to organize a military front, by advising the Benghazi committee which is trying to pull the separate rebel groups together and build a cohesive unit.
Now is not the time, as the old saying goes, to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Arab World Must Choose its Future Soon

The time has almost come when the West will have to say to Free Libya, “We have done all we can. Now, it is up to you.”
In the Arab World, there are many such areas - Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iran are facing off in a Sunni-Shi’ite tug of war for control of the Middle East. Only Egypt seems to be on the right track to independence and democratically self-determined government.
It is obvious that today there is a lack of clear focus in the Arab world.
What do its citizens want?
What are they willing to pay for democratic government?
What type of democracy will suit them best?
Who should be the leaders of the democrats?
What are the goals of the ruling families, except to stay in power and who really speaks for them?
What role will the ruling families have in the future?
Is it possible for the Sunnis and Shi’ites to live together in peace?
Does the Arab League have an independent and weighty voice in the wave of change sweeping over it member states?
These fundamental questions need to be addressed in a calm and open debate, so that all views can be heard and weighed. The debate cannot take place unless every Arab community of interests is willing to participate.
Most will say that Arabs are not well-suited to such an organized and comprehensive debate, that they are too absorbed in their own tribal and religious perspectives to come together, except for the most elemental and pressing of questions.
But, I believe it can and will be done - and now is the time.
Saudi Arabia and her king are certainly the most respected of all Arab leaders. King Abdallah has already started the process in his country, with his speech on the 18th of March, but his announcements were principally economic in nature and directed to his citizens alone. King Abdallah needs to look up and out to encompass the rest of the Arab world. He must find a Shi’ite leader willing to take the huge risk of working with him to stabilize the Middle East. From that point, the larger debate can begin.
While the West and America can help with information and insights, they should not try to be part of the debate.
For too long, we have over-protected the Arab world, feeding it petrol-dollars and using it for our own security purposes. It is time to let them stand on their own and devise their own future. They are capable of great things if only we will free them to try.
There is an Arab proverb that says, “Only the tent pitched by your own hands will stand.”
The tent of the future Arab world must be pitched by Arabs.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thoughts for Libya in its Agony to Become a Free People

And so, yet another time, the West in the guise of France, Britain and the United States, has been called upon to save fellow human beings who are being terrorized by a dictatorial regime.
The assault on Qadhaffi forces and military installations in Libya has begun, and after some hours, it can be said that the results are reassuring.
However, the outcome is anything but certain for several reasons : Qadhaffi is a madman whose reaction to reason and force will not be normal, and the freedom fighters of Free Libya are ill-prepared to act as an army and so their advance toward Tripoli is sure to be difficult. Finally, if everything goes well and the freedom fighters gain their cause, it will be necessary to find the leaders and the political will to govern Libya as it moves toward its version of democracy.
The 19th century English liberal philosopher, John Stuart Mills, said of war :
For now, let us pray for the Free Libya freedom fighters who have heeded Mills words and are willing to sacrifice themselves for their country. Let us keep in our thoughts and prayers the soldiers who are willing to give Free Libya a chance to survive. Let us pray for those civilians caught up in the fighting. Let us show our respect for the courage of the reporters on the ground, especially those in Tripoli, as they try to bring us an unbiased view of events, and for the humanitarian groups who are with the displaced and suffering Libyans.
Above all, let us remember that what we are witnessing is not meant to be a war, but a means to save people from a deranged despot who can no longer be trusted with power or with the lives of his people.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The German Abstention at the United Nations

While reaction is muted to the German abstention during the UN Security Council vote on Resolution 1973 calling for a no-fly zone over Libya and other actions against the Qadhaffi regime, it is clear that Germany is, for the time being, the odd man out in the European coalition.
Perhaps motivated by its own past, when bombings destroyed her grand cities toward the end of World War II, perhaps because Germans have, since 1945, been pacifist, perhaps because she has a large population of Turk and other Muslims living within her borders, perhaps because the Merkel coalition seems to be in grave danger of crumbling, perhaps….
But, Germany’s UN Ambassador Peter Wittig’s remonstrance against unexpected consequences and his warning that what seems quick action can turn out to be long and protracted war, did little to reinforce Germany’s place at the center of Europe.
"We see great risks," Wittig said in explaining Germany’s abstention. "The likelihood of large-scale loss of life should not be underestimated. If the steps proposed turn out to be ineffective, we see the danger of being drawn into a protracted military conflict that would affect the wider region."
This fear must be balanced against the death being wrought by Qadhaffi on his own people. Libya's opposition leaders have repeatedly said that they are doing all they can, but that international intervention is the only way to avoid a massacre.
Khaeri Aboshagor, UK representative of the Libyan League for Human Rights said of the Resolution, "Absolutely it is good news and the right thing to do…. I spoke to some people in Libya yesterday and they say yes, they realize there may be some civilian casualties, although hopefully they will be minimal. But Gaddafi is killing us every day and we have no choice."
Winston Churchill, who knew something about the Germans, made several comments that might be studied by Chancellor Merkel :
- “It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required.”
- “One ought never to turn one’s back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half.”
And, finally, one of my favorite Chruchill definitions:
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

Friday, March 18, 2011

Thank You, President Sarkozy and Thank You, France

The world has an eternal love-hate affair with France. We love her cuisine, her wine, her fashion, her joie de vivre. But, we wonder at her frivolity and narcissism.
But, all these characteristics miss the essence of France. She is built upon the declaration of the rights of men, written by the French assembly in 1789 during the French revolution, based on Thomas Jefferson’s American Bill of Rights, and the model for the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The French are so attached to the ideal of human rights that it forms the core of their internal political debate. It is also the reason that France allows herself to take in and welcome waves of refugees and illegal immigrants looking to her as their last hope.
For two weeks, the world has watched as French President Sarkozy stood alone and majestically calm in his call for the world to support the people of Libya, suffering at the hands of a murderous Muammar Qadhaffi. Nicolas Sarkozy lent his personal reputation and that of his country to the simple principle that every human being has certain rights that no one can take away from them.
One would have hoped that America would have led the battle, but she seemed to be paralyzed by practical questions.
One would have expected Britain to be the leader, and she did her best, but her voice lacked the Churchillian rhetorical power required.
One would have thought that common sense would have brought Germany onto the side of the angels, but she allowed petty internal political agendas to sidetrack her and make her voice irrelevant.
President Sarkozy alone stood firm for the French ideal of humans rights, as a simple, uncomplicated principle that no one deserves to be slaughtered if the world can stop it. He won the day.
It is no wonder that a French flag was flying last night in Benghazi alongside the Free Libya flag.
Time has moved on with the adoption of the UN resolution that supports the Libyan people. The practical Americans and the determined British will see that all is done properly.
But, if you are breathing a little easier today, if you no longer have that lump in your throat when you see TV images from Benghazi, if you feel that, at least for one day, human beings did the right thing - remember to thank France, and her foreign Minister Alain Juppé, and above all, French President Sarkozy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Obama's Lack of Strategic Vision for the Arab World

President Obama is, by all accounts, an avid basketball fan. Thus, he has to know that strategy is the key element in sustained winning. Strategy matters - after all the physical training, after all the equipment fine-tuning, after all the money poured into finding and keeping the best players - it is strategy that counts.
Applying what he knows about basketball to the Middle East may seem too frivolous in today’s world, but it is what he is entirely lacking in the region that is most in need of strategy, for the region itself, for America and for the world.
Instead of acting out of a strategic vision to resolve the grave current mass of Middle East problems, Mr. Obama has decided to play point man in an opportunistic effort to deal with each crisis as it develops. While this may work in any given basketball game, it is a deadly approach to take in the Middle East.   
His reactionary policies have already seriously undermined American credibility in the region, and one might add, in Europe, given French President Sarkozy’s effort to provide strategic leadership to fill the void.
Put Tunisia aside, where France was better prepared and better able to provide long-term support for change with stability, and where America was quick to help but lacking in an understanding of local politics.
That leaves perhaps the best example of America’s lack of strategic vision - in the very late White House support for the Egyptian rebels, so late in fact, that it might have been better not to act at all, but to try to reach out to an old friend, Hosni Mubarak, to ease his exit and thus gain Obama’s objective, democratic reform.  That, at least, would have fit our role as the elder statesman in the Gulf region, where strategic decisions are becoming critically necessary.
Instead, Obama publicly abandoned Mubarak, and in so doing, left the old regimes in the Gulf baffled by his indifference, not to them personally but to their strategic position in the world.
Following Egypt, we were treated to Obama’s White House calling for a cost-benefit analysis before deciding whether to help the Libyan rebels. This was another strategic error, because anyone who knows anything at all about Arab politics knows that Qadhaffi is despised by the entire Arab world leadership. Now, at the midnight hour, Obama is trying to turn a last-minute change in American policy into a call for UN action. Too late to show support for the Arab world’s position vis-à-vis Qadhaffi. To late to speak to the Arab world about our genuine support for democratic change when it is obviously needed. Too weak to be taken as strategy.
That brings us to Bahrain, where Obama’s lack of strategic vision is the most pronounced and the most dangerous. His comments seem to be aimed at supporting Iran-leaning Shi’ites, whom he portrays as democrats but whom many experts see as Iran’s pawns, in their effort to topple the Saudi-led Sunni Gulf regimes. Not only is this a disastrously uninformed approach to the Gulf, it is the sure road to an undeclared Saudi-Iran war on every front for control of the Gulf and its petroleum. The Saudi king and his ministers have already made clear diplomatically that it really doesn’t matter what Obama thinks, they are not abandoning the Gulf to Iran.  They see Obama as a weak president who mistakes democracy for regional strategy and who is quick to criticize them while saying nothing about Iran’s meat-axe suppression of its own fledgling democrats.
Again, America is weakened and our role in the Arab world in jeopardy. Nothing could be more dangerous for world peace.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Petraeus and Afghanistan - Westmoreland and Vietnam

General David Petraeus, in charge of American forces in Afghanistan, is reporting to Congress today.
Gen. Petraeus will say that the Taliban’s momentum has been halted and that it is now possible to begin turning over the security function to Afghan troops. He will say that he can begin the start of the pull-out of American troops, insisted upon by President Obama in return for his agreement to the Iraq-like surge that has left Afghanistan with what Petraeus describes as “fragile and reversible” stability progress.
The situation on the ground makes the General sure that American troop withdrawals can start as promised to the President, even while forging a longer-term security pact with the Karzai government.
I would like to add just a few details:
- Iran is still supplying and training the Afghanistan Taliban.
- Pakistan, Afghanistan’s neighbor sharing a long common frontier, is still unwilling to commit to preventing the flow of arms and men from Pakistan into Afghanistan that would choke the Taliban effectively.
- The tribal people of Afghanistan are still living with the Taliban in their midst, and know that no one, not the Americans or anyone else, can help them to escape from their clutch, which includes terrorizing villages and using them as bases for caches of arms and as launch pads for assault on US troops trying to stabilize the tribal situation. 
- America is being asked by General Petraeus to believe that its military can successfully “partner” with the Karzai government, whose only real competence seems to be corruption and appeasement of the Taliban.
- After a winter of eliminating the Taliban from various areas of the country, the US is bracing for a Taliban spring offensive.
Let me be clear. I hope General Petraeus is 100% right in his judgment.
I hope he can deliver on his promises.
I hope the US troop withdrawal will not unleash on the people of Afghanistan yet another reign of Taliban terror.
I hope that President Obama’s plan was the right one and that America can successfully withdraw, train and equip Afghan troops, find a way to eliminate corruption from the Karzai clique, and partner with Karzai to secure the future of Afghanistan.
But, it is not easy to abandon every bit of logic required to find comfort in General Petraeus’ words and plans, especially when his biggest complaint is that Congress is not supplying enough money for the effort.
America has been here before. It was called Vietnam.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

France, America and the Middle East

Two countries are either going to win or lose the Middle East for democracy.
France, with its long history of hegemony in the region, ranging from Morocco to Egypt and north toward Syria and Lebanon, is a past master at understanding Middle East politics and personalities.
It should be no surprise to anyone that French President Sarkozy understood immediately what was needed to thwart Qadhaffi’s attempt to re-take the insurgent-held east of Libya. He was the first to call for a no-fly zone, he was the first to recognize the freedom fighters, he was the only member of the European Union to actively attempt to move the EU to action.
While, in times past, France certainly rode over independence movements in Algeria, where the separatists finally won, it has never lost its influence.
This can be seen in one of the first strategies implemented by President Sarkozy after his 2007 election - the Mediterranean Initiative that is organizing a trading zone for North Africa, France and other European nations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. His idea was met with some skepticism, but it is bearing fruit. Most North Africans speak French and France’s culture is more influenced by North Africa culture than any other European country. Sarkozy saw in this the opportunity to pull the region toward economic competitiveness. No other European country could have proposed such a wide-ranging initiative. 
Britain’s David Cameron has quietly followed Sarkozy’ lead vis-à-vis Qadhaffi, but Great Britain has long since forfeited its power in the Middle East to America, the other country that might be able to influence the outcome of the democratic uprisings in the region.
America has grown in influence since World War II, becoming the Gulf region’s best “partner.” The petrol-dollar economies are bound to the United States in a symbiotic relationship that allows America to base its naval fleet in the Gulf and to launch its Iraq-Iran policies with the support of Gulf region leaders by buying Gulf oil to feed the coffers of the region’s ruling families, instead of developing its own large petroleum resources as effectively as might be possible.
But, while France has, for many years, tried to make up for its past errors in North Africa, has educated its young and supported its fledgling democracies, the United States has, instead, taken the approach of covering over the Gulf’s terrible humanitarian record and absolutism in the name of political stability and expediency.  America’s quiet training programs for young Gulf democrats cannot save it from its regime support forever.
Today, America is paying the price for its error in judgment and if we see one day, as we surely will, the democratic wave become the next generation of Gulf region leaders, America will have to scramble to get on board their freedom train.
Short vs. long term vision, expediency vs. statesmanship - these have so far made the difference.
But, with the almost inevitable fall of Benghazi, France will need all its skills to help Libya to continue on its road to democracy, while having to deal with a Qadhaffi who will certainly become even more difficult. That France recognized his enemy within will not help.
As for America, it must decide if the stationing of a navel fleet is more important than its historic support for democracy.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Japanese Spirit and Buddhism

Since last Friday, when the earthquake struck Japan and the tsunamis followed bringing their devastation, I have been filled with grief for the courageous, polite and refined people of Japan.
It is useless to suffer, I know, for action is what counts now.  And all of us can do something - find a Red Cross contribution center, follow your local television for hotlines where you can give money, pray for the Japanese, be brave for them so that they know we are all with them in their agony.
As I watch their stoic faces, searching for a wife, a child, a parent, but never giving in to despair, I see their lesson for all of us.
Seventy percent of Japanese people still follow Buddhism in some form, and ninety percent of Japanese funerals are conducted according to Buddhist rites.
This fact made me look for Buddha quotes that we can keep in our hearts as we try to help. These quotes may give us a glimpse, no matter how superficial, into the wisdom that will support the Japanese in their suffering and heroic recovery effort.

“I do not believe in a fate that falls on men however they act; but I do believe in a fate that falls on them unless they act.” I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” “Happiness is not the absence of problems but the ability to deal with them.”
“May all that have life be delivered from suffering.” “Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes.”

And, finally, an Eskimo thought that comforts me : “Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Barak Obama, Will Rogers and Libya

The Arab League called this weekend for the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libya, in an effort to protect civilians and help stop the growing civil war in which the freedom fighters are being pushed back toward Benghazi. During the meeting, demonstrators marched outside the Arab League headquarters in Cairo in support of the no-fly zone and international help for the freedom fighters.
The League also asked the UN to implement its request as it thought best, but warned that it wants no military intervention and that the no-fly zone must be lifted when the civil war ends. The request was made against the backdrop of advancing Qadhaffi forces that seem energized and determined to take Benghazi and end the pro-democracy insurrection.
The White House said that it was cheered by the Arab League request but will continue to prepare for all contingencies.
President Obama said Friday that he "won't take (the) decision lightly" about the use of military force, including helping to enforce a no-fly zone, saying it is critical to "balance costs versus benefits."
Meanwhile, France has already recognized the National Transitional Council as the sole representative of the Libyan people, but the European Union continues to be more restrained, with reports that it is Germany which is arguing against EU intervention."
When I consider Mr. Obama’s cold and heartless statement about cost-benefit analysis, I cannot help but think of Will Rogers, the unequaled American humorist of the early 20th century, who took on the American government as his favorite topic of ridicule.
While I do not mean to be flippant, and certainly do not want to belittle either America’s political institutions or the Libyan freedom fighters, sometimes, when all else has failed, seeing the humor in the “sick” political response to this despotism may be the only thing left. So, here are some of Will Rogers’ best comments. They seem to have been written with the Obama administration in mind:

- People's minds are changed through observation and not through argument.

- Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction.

- Liberty
doesn't work as well in practice as it does in speeches.

Thank you, Will Rogers. Too bad you’re not with us now because we could really use your wisdom.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Obama's Baffling Hesitation in the Middle East

As if we don’t have enough to consider vis-à-vis the American White House and its foreign affairs approach to Libya, this week we had another action in the grassroots effort to overthrow despotic regimes.
Recently, the Iranian president ordered the arrests of Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, the two most prominent opposition leaders, who were also presidential candidates in the election won by Ahmadjinabad.
Last Tuesday, tens of thousands of Iranians in several major cities ignored the ban against public demonstrations and marched in support of the two detained leaders. Riot police were present to control and arrest them.
Some marchers also called for the ouster of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Cell phone videos show the protestors shouting “death to the dictator.”
At least 79 people were arrested, but the Tehran prosecutor denied that there was any serious event in Tehran the day of the marches.
The Iranian regime also refuses to confirm the arrests of Mousavi and Karroubi, saying only that they have been detained but not imprisoned.
Many of Iran’s top regime officials are on blacklists in the European Union and the United States for violation of human rights.
As in Libya, President Obama has refused to offer any active support to the Iranian freedom marchers.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently testified in Congress that there needs to be an effective counterattack in the Middle East in order to prevent Iranian hegemony from spreading widely in the region. She also said there is presently no effective US policy towards Iran.
Hillary Clinton noted that America is in a competition and needs to fight back against Iran for its abuses of its own people and to expose its hypocrisy. But, she added that the administration has “modulated” its human rights message because Iran would “basically paint anybody who opposed them as American stooges.”
Congress was not pleased with the current state of affairs. It seems Mrs. Clinton is not very pleased either.
That leaves the White House and President Obama, who seem to be doing their very best to snuff out any hope for democracy and fundamental improvement in the lives of Middle East citizens.
I supposed we should no longer be surprised, but I continue to be stupified.